Turtles and goldfish.
If you are Jewish and of a certain age, these may be among your most vivid memories of the Purim festival: a riot of costumes, noisemaking and carnivals that are part and parcel of the celebration of the inspiring story of how Queen Esther saved the Jews from annihilation by the evil Haman.
Purim will be observed this weekend. The celebration includes the traditional reading of the biblical book of Esther (the Megillah) that recounts Esther's heroic story, and the Sunday carnival, which generally includes games, inflatable attractions, family entertainment and hamantaschen, a three-sided filled cookie that represents the three-cornered hat that the evil Haman wore.
In the 1960s, at least, the turtles and goldfish were the most sought-after prizes awarded at the Purim carnivals. Eventually, turtles were deemed to be unhealthy and were banned. But memories are made of this.
Of the biblical holidays, Purim is considered to be minor, but it is a major celebration.
"When your lives are at stake and you are able to overcome great odds, you go out of your way to celebrate that," offered Rabbi Alejandro Felch of Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Deerfield. "For children, Purim is particularly memorable. Not that religious school and other aspects of Jewish life aren't festive, but this is the only holiday in which celebrants are allowed to make noise in the sanctuary during a service."
It's customary to "boo" Haman's name whenever it is mentioned in the story.
"It's a way to create sweet and joyous memories," Felch said. "I see people in the congregation that grew up on the North Shore, and now they are here with their own children doing the same, silly (Purim traditions) they did when they were young."
Purim has a timely and timeless resonance, Felch said. The story is set in Persia, modern-day Iran.
"Today we are very worried about what the Iranians may be doing," he said. "But on the other hand, it is an amazing celebration of the strength of Esther, (and provides a powerful lesson) on how the power of one can turn things around."
Several temples will be offering Purim celebrations.
Congregation Solel in Highland Park is marking this tale as old as time with its own "Disney Purim" complete with costume contest. The Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism in Highland Park is hosting on Saturday night what promises to be a very fab "Sgt. Purim's Lovely Parts Club and….," which will include Yellow Submarine sandwiches and She's Leaving Hamantaschen.
Congregation B'nai Torah in Highland Park is pooling its resources with another congregation, Aitz Hayim, for its Saturday Purim party for adults. These two congregations, along with North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, formed a collaboration a year ago to jointly run a Hebrew school, said Andrew Lask, B'nai Torah president.
The initiative was formed "in the hopes of creating greater levels of collaboration between the three synagogues, sharing various activities and events," he said. "In the spirit of Purim, we are celebrating not just as a single community, but an overall community."
But it's not all fun and games. Many area temples will use the Purim celebration either to raise funds for their schools or to collect items for charitable donations. Congregants at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park are being encouraged to bring cans of Kosher non-perishable foods to donate to needy families. The Moriah Congregation in Deerfield is likewise asking Purim celebrants to bring items for donation to the Rhea Segal Food Pantry at the ARK, a not-for-profit that benefits Chicagoland's Jewish families based in Chicago and Northbrook.
B'nai Torah is asking for hygiene items and cleaning supplies to donate to the Chicago-based Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center, which aids disadvantaged families in the Uptown, Edgewater and Lakeview communities.
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